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Students stopping by the Office of Student Life for a York peppermint patty or a cup of hot chocolate may be surprised to hear the office’s staffers talking about something called “D&D.”
No, Student Life has not suddenly taken up highly involved fantasy board games as an office pastime. Instead, Moral Reasoning is being rebranded and restructured. By the time this issue of the Pilot is released, many Principia students will have been exposed to the new and improved Moral Reasoning curriculum, now known as Dilemmas and Decisions.
For many students, Moral Reasoning was a yearly event to be tolerated, or perhaps enjoyed. Why then, if the program was acceptable (if sometimes inconvenient) to so many, did Student Life find a need to change it so radically?
The answer to that question is emblazoned on banners and posters all around campus: Principia is reevaluating its student learning outcomes as part of its current reaffirmation of accreditation, which is run by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC). Despite resounding faculty and administration approval for a Moral Reasoning requirement, the old Moral Reasoning did not fit with HLC accredidation standards because it was listed as a requirement for graduation in the College catalogue.
Under the old curriculum, the program was led by the resident counselors of upperclassman houses. This was an aspect of Moral Reasoning that many students enjoyed because of the natural closeness of year groups within those houses.
However, for the HLC to approve Moral Reasoning as a graduation requirement, the program must be taught by individuals with a Masters degree or higher. Since the trustees and the faculty continue to see it as an essential part of a Principia education, Student Life was tasked with reevaluating and re-imagining Moral Reasoning. The last time the program was examined was in 2008.
The new D&D program will be spread out over four years, instead of only taking place during freshman, sophomore (or junior), and senior years. D&D, like Moral Reasoning, is a 30-hour requirement. But it is spaced out into two short freshman and senior components and three longer sophomore and junior sessions. According to Dean of Students Debra Jones, D&D will mostly consist of 45-minute long content instruction sessions by faculty members and administrators, followed by RC-led discussion groups.
According to Student Life Programming Manager Josh Sprague, the purpose of the revamped curriculum is not to present Student Life’s idea of morality, but rather give students the tools they need to make moral decisions and grapple with big issues. The curriculum is designed to build upon itself: it begins in freshman year with a discussion of values and by senior year focuses on the application of individual values to life circumstances.
Moral Reasoning and D&D fall under two strategic plan goals, one of which is Christian Science-based character education. Sprague says, “If you’re a student of Mrs. Eddy’s writings, you see a constant connection between morality and healing. Basically, I think Principia feels that we are serving the cause of Christian Science by putting out people into the world who are ready to handle big questions and act morally… In acting morally, you’re setting yourself up to be a healer.”
Student Life made every effort to gather information from a variety of sources before they finalized the new D&D structure. Jones met with Student Senate as well as student focus groups to determine what it was that students liked and did not like about the old Moral Reasoning. Despite this information-gathering, there have been a few hitches in the implementation of D&D.
While some students have enjoyed their D&D experience thus far, others preferred the old system where content was presented by RCs, and discussions were lengthy and deep.
Some, like senior Galen Collins, object to the suddenness of the change. Collins also said, “A lot of the questions [on the D&D essays required for graduation] were personal, centered around one’s relationship with their faith and their spirituality. The way I see it, nobody has anything more personal than their faith and spirituality. I know that some of the assignments were read by Debra Jones and [college president] Dr. Jonathan Palmer. That seems wrong.”
According to Palmer, he read some student essays to prepare for the senior seminar, while Jones read none. Palmer added that the essays were looked at “for general content and direction, not for anything specific tied to individual students.” D&D is technically a course, and Palmer said, “It seems quite legitimate for instructors to read student assignments.”
Others object to the way the content was presented. Freshman Riley Capp was a member of the first class to go through the new freshman curriculum. Capp says, “I feel that it was very much forced upon us to think about some of those issues, and I didn’t necessarily agree with all the stuff they told us. At the same time, I respect the way they did it.”
Non-traditional student Stephanie Guevara also felt somewhat condescended to by the D&D curriculum she experienced during orientation. She says, “For… students that have already [had] a great deal of workplace and office experience, there should be an adjustment to the seminar.”
As Sprague said, “Change is hard.” Student Life is asking for student feedback on the new curriculum, and considers the process to be ever-evolving. Students frustrated by the new system can continue to hope for change, and those who enjoy aspects of it can voice their support.